Sunday, June 24, 2007

On The Trail of Bulldog Drummond

The Sixty Minute 007: On the Trail of Bulldog Drummond

By Wesley Britton

I admit--there are too few movie fans interested in the old spy series that predated and set the stage for the James Bond films. You have to have a special curiosity to care about Mr. Moto, Dr. Mabuse, The Lone Wolf, and other black-and-white outings that were often quickly produced one hour B-movie entertainments during the early years of cinema.

But I'd like to offer one series that is more than worthy of your entertainment time. It features Bulldog Drummond, a character who's been described as the James Bond of the 1930s.

Why is Bulldog Drummond interesting 70 or so years after his heyday? Well, while a number of the movies have been around on video for years, Alpha Video's 9 Bulldog Drummond DVD releases just came out in 2005. The chosen films were, especially during the '30s, among the best detective/spy comedies ever made. Before the advent of bathroom humor, special-effects sight gags, and repetitious bumbling secret agent plots, Hugh C. Drummond thrived in witty scripts with comic situations in each adventure that also linked the features into one ongoing screwball comedy of manners.

Here is the story of this character. If he sounds like someone who'd be more diverting than what's on the tube tonight--well, Bulldog is alive and well on DVD.


Before Captain Hugh Chesterson Drummond, D.S.O, M.C., was sanitized for Hollywood, the former World War I infantry officer was an influential literary figure during the "Clubland" era of yarns penned by John Buchan, Dornford Yates, and Sapper. As reported in my Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film, "the famous `Bulldog' Drummond stories emphasized the teamwork of Englishmen in overtly racist terms, with many unkind references to Italians and Jews. `The breed' . . . were curt, able to throw back knives tossed at them, loved beer, and mistrusted the press . . . they knew enough to tear off the next two or three pages of telegraph paper to ensure no copies of their messages were left behind. They defeated foes who kept gorillas, dwarfs, and legless monsters who used blowpipes, dum-dum bullets, acid baths, and compressed air rifles. The heroes always preferred hand-to-hand combat even when the enemy threatened them with spiked boxing gloves. Such madmen stooped so low as to kiss married women while these victims were tied to chairs in their attempt to destroy the English way of life." (Britton 16-7)

The novels and short stories by Drummond's creator, Sapper (pen name for Lt. Col. Herman Cyril McNeile), are now largely remembered for their cliché-ridden, crude, and unsophisticated literary style. Beginning with Bulldog Drummond (1920), the sometimes secret agent Drummond battled his major foe, Carl Peterson, along with a parade of other foreigners. (McCormick 160-1) Referring to the first 1920 novel, reports:

"What little plot there is seems to be recycled from classic mystery stories of the time: the girl and father from Sherlock Holmes, the global conspiracy from John Buchan, the missing millionaire and pearl necklace familiar tropes even in 1920. Sapper's contribution is pure energy and derring-do . . . proving that enough action can partially overcome a laughable plot and total lack of characterization . . . You can see why this book appealed to young sprouts of the pre-WWII British officer class; but Bulldog Drummond was a hero rather than a person, and that traps him irremediably in his own time."

This seems a fair summation of the literary Bulldog Drummond. The screen incarnations,
however, are another story entirely.

Drummond on Screen

Colonel: Pah! The eternal din in this club is an outrage! I ask you, wot?
Algy Longworth: You're perfectly right, Colonel. We ought to complain. Do you know
that's the third spoon I've heard drop this month?
Bulldog Drummond: Spoons, my hat. I wish that somebody would throw a bomb and wake the place up.
(Opening lines in an English club after a waiter dropped a spoon, Bulldog Drummond,

As it happened, Alfred Hitchcock's long interest in spy stories first came to the screen in
the original The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), an assassination plot based on
Drummond stories. (note 1) While Hitchcock's effort was only inspired by Drummond's
literary adventures, the character first appeared in silent films based on Sapper
plays, Bulldog Drummond (1923) and Bulldog Drummond's Third Round (1925). Bulldog
Drummond (1929), nominated for two Oscars, was Samuel Goldwyn's first talking
picture starring Ronald Colman in an engaging effort not yet released on DVD. In these
experimental times, microphones were taped as close to the actors as possible, and
settings were arranged to accommodate the new technology (Mulay 15). Co-starring
Loretta Young, Coleman returned in one more effort, Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back
(1934), the same year Ralph Richardson played the character in the British The Return of Bulldog Drummond. According to one review at the IMDB, Richardson was "the only
screen Drummond apparently as racist and violent as the original." In between the Coleman films, Temple Tower (1930) starred Kenneth McKenna in a lewellyN Hughes story. No known prints exist of this project.

The Paramount Series

During the late 1930s and the early war years, Paramount Pictures portrayed the
impulsive adventurer as a suave ex-British officer by the likes of Ray Milland and John
Howard. While various actors played the supporting players, Drummond was usually
involved with Inspector Col. Sir Reginald Nielson (John Barrymore, Guy Standing, H.B.
Warner), who often pleaded with Bulldog to get out of England as his presence always
met a crime had been committed, was about to be committed, or any other sort of
mayhem was going to erupt. Phyllis Clavering (Heather Angel, Louise Campbell) was
Drummond's long-suffering but spunky girlfriend--more on her below. Algy Longworth
(Reginald Denny) was a helpful if befuddled and frustrated buddy Drummond won't let
off the adventure hook even when his wife is in labor. And "Tenny" Tennison (E. Clive
was the stalwart valet always nonplussed by any bizarre situations his master gets
involved in.

These 60 minute features drained off much of the brutality and racial
perspectives of the novels in favor of a comic approach. An ongoing storyline was
Drummonds romance with his fiancee', Phyllis, whose wedding plans are always
thwarted by the boyish Bulldog being pulled into one escapade or another. In one
outing, for example, Bulldog was after bank robbers while a French police chief keeps
trying to make sure Drummond marries Phyllis, either in jail or at the crime scene. It took
many films before the union surprised everyone after all sorts of crooks, spies, and cops
drug Drummond into all manner of strange intrigue involving secret gadgets, clever
gizmos, and unusual smuggling operations.

Ray Milland was Drummond in Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1937) in which Drummond
Met and rescued Phyllis for the first time. He immediately Recognized she has the right
Spirit for him when she clobbered a baddie with a candlestick. Then John Howard took
over the title role in such films as 1937' Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (in which
Tenny rescues Drummond, Algy, and Phyllis from a lethal gas trap). In Bulldog
Drummond's Revenge (1937), Drummond looked for spies who've stolen a secret weapons formula. This story is remembered for action, humor, but not as one of the series best.

But Howard also starred in the well-regarded Bulldog Drummond's Peril (1938) where
our hero went to Switzerland and uncovered a murder and diamond theft. Good
locations, a bullwhip vs. sword fight, and ahead of their time devices like artificial diamonds and corporate conspiracies suppressing rival technology mark this episode. Likewise, in 1939, Arrest Bulldog Drummond had Howard competing with foreign spies after a futuristic device that can blow up munitions from a distance. Howard returned In Bulldog Drummond's Secret Police (1939), a film with a rather misleading title. In this case, Drummond doesn't have to travel to find trouble--it comes to his own home at Rockingham Tower on Roman Road. While wedding plans are in earnest, a historian reveals a buried treasure is hidden somewhere in the secret passages throughout the Drummond mansion. In the end, after all mysteries are solved, Bulldog and Phyllis make it as far as the wedding rehearsal before the ceiling literally caves in. With her aunt, Phyllis escapes to Africa saying hunting lions would be safer.

Arguably the best of the lot, at least in terms of spy plots, was Bulldog Drummond in Africa (1938). John Howard was Drummond traveling with his entourage to Morocco to rescue a kidnapped Scotland Yard detective who knows about a "signal disintegrator" device. Drummond has to start the adventure without his pants as Phyllis has his trousers and guns taken away because she wants her long delayed wedding to take place without the adventurer getting caught up in something. This time, Phyllis is the one to alert him of the kidnapping. As usual, Drummond, Phyllis, and Tenny exchange repartee in the deadliest of situations, even moments after the plane they were flying explodes before their eyes. Still, Phyllis persists and the duo wed--after solving a bank robbery--in Bulldog Drummond's Bride in 1939.

Trying to maintain the popularity established at Paramount, Columbia Pictures offered two more leading men as Drummond after the war. In 1947, Australian actor Ron Randell starred in Bulldog Drummond at Bay with Drummond battling secret agents seeking plans for a secret warplane. Randell also starred in a new Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back with a new Aujy Longworth, played by Patrick O'Moore. In this story, two different women both claim to be a missing heiress. In 1948, Tom Conway was cast in the slow and muddled The Challenge and 13 Lead Soldiers, the latter based on a Sapper story. This time, John Newland was Algy.

For the record, Gerard Fairlie, The actual model for the Bulldog Drummond character, also penned a number of Drummond adventures, some of which became British films. Before Sapper's death in 1937, the two discussed the originator's last novel, Bulldog Drummond Hits Out (1937), and Fairlie agreed to complete the book (McCormick 70). Fairlie had Drummond battling the new enemies of the Berlin-Rome-Moscow Axis before the second World War, a change from battles with independent merchants and mercenary spies to duels with political states in books like Bulldog Drummond at War (1940) and Captain Bulldog Drummond (1945). In these tales, Drummond battled saboteurs, prevented riots, and helped inspire rearmament in England. Drummond, along with intelligence officer Ronald Standish, dealt with ongoing villains, notably old foe Carl Peterson and his new wife, Irma (Osbourne 189-99).

Sapper and Fairlie first collaborated on a film script in 1935 for Gaumont International's Bulldog Jack, known as Alias Bulldog Drummond in the U.S. In this story, Bulldog (Atholl Fleming) is injured when his sabotaged car explodes, so Jack Pennington (Jack Hulbert) steps in as a bogus Drummond. This slapstick comedy, available on video, co-starred Fay (King Kong) Wray, Ralph Richardson, and Claude Hulbert as Algy Longworth running around the British underground seeking jewel crooks. Details regarding the 1940 Bulldog Sees It Through, distributed by the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC) in England, by MGM in the states, are more uncertain. No Bulldog is listed in the credits--Jack Buchanan seems to be the star, playing a character called Bill Watson. The last of the Fairlie movie projects was Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951) for which Fairlie co-wrote the screenplay with Howard Emmett Rogers and Arthur Wimperis. This low-regarded effort starred Walter Pidgeon, David Tomlinson as algy, and Bernard Lee, later the "M" of the Bond pictures, as Col. Webson.

"No matter where she's a-hidden', she's gonna hear me a-comin'. Gonna walk right
down that street like Bulldog Drummond!"
(From The Coasters' hit, "Searchin'", 1957)

Was Ian Fleming, or the Bond movie producers, influenced by either the Bulldog Drummond books or films? Quite likely. It's not known if Fleming read the Sapper stories, but he was clearly a fan of fellow "Clubland" novelist John Buchan whose books he read as a child. It is very clear producers during the 1960s took note of the success of Sean Connery and brought Bulldog Drummond back for two film adventures.

First, there was Deadlier Than the Male (1966), which introduced Richard Johnson as the above-it-all insurance investigator and sometime spy. Johnson went after master criminal Carl Peterson (Nigel Green) using two women as killers. (Drummond and Peterson were both created by Sapper in 1920.) In the story, they're after a Middle Eastern king. Spy exploitation sex goddess Sylva Koscina was Penelope, one of the possibly lesbian assassins; Elke Sommer became an international sensation based on her role as Irma Eckman.

The sequel, Some Girls Do (1969), returned Johnson, this time facing 13 women with artificial brains whose electronic strings were being pulled by his old nemesis, Carl Peterson (James Villears). This time, Peterson is out to earn 8 million pounds by using a new "infra-sound" device to knock out experimental British planes. Sound familiar?

This incarnation of Drummond was shaped more by the Bond mythos than anything Sapper or Gerard Fairlie could have imagined. In Some Girls Do, for example, The gimmick of girl robots, trained in a bogus cooking school, would have made for a good The Avengers script. Or even a story like In Like Flint where sexy girls were brainwashed by hair-dryers. This Drummond seemed to be a Peter O'Toole imitation waltzing casually in a production built around girls, girls, girls. Well, the film was so British it would be better described as birds, birds, birds. In an attempt to recapture the glow of Elke Somer in Deadlier Than the Male, The sultry voiced Delilah Lavi, a veteran of Casino Royale and a number of other 007 rip-offs, was Helga, the girl sent to seduce Drummond before attempting to murder him. The other beauties included Beba Loncar, Vanessa Howard, Sydney Rome, and Yutte Stenssgaard. You could call them the Stepford Killers.

If you can find any of the original Bulldog Drummond books, great, but mainly there's no reason not to enjoy the old films--by which I mean the '30s romps--so easily
obtainable from many sources. Yes, the visuals are obviously dated, but the hokiness fits in with the intentional sight gags such as one scene where Bulldog explains a mystery to Longworth while driving through a fog, his windshield wipers flapping in his open convertible. Try one--and see if you don't get hooked!


1. According to Patrick McGilligan's Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003), Hitchcock was attracted to a Sapper story in which the Drummonds, vacationing in Switzerland, stumble onto an international spy plot. To keep Drummond silent, the spies kidnap the Drummond's infant--hence the first working title for The Man Who Knew Too Much--Bulldog Drummond's Baby. But when scriptwriter Charles Bennett was brought into the project, the Drummonds had to be dropped as British International Pictures still owned the rights to the character. The baby too was dropped in favor of a prepubescent girl. The original concept gave way to new global concerns, mainly the rise of German Fascism and an attempted assassination of FDR. "The Bulldog Drummond character had been downgraded from dashing to merely fatherly, but at the same time his wife had evolved into more of a heroine." The only thing retained from the original script was the opening sequence set in St. Moritz. (McGilligan 158-62).

Bulldog Drummond on DVD

Complete lists of Bulldog Drummond films are easily found at other websites; this list is
Of films currently available on Alpha Video. All these titles are for rent from Netflix or for
purchase from Amazon or other sources. Most are double-features on one disc.

Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1937--in which we meet Phyllis); Bulldog Drummond's
Secret police (1939);Bulldog Drummond at Bay (1937); Bulldog Drummond in Africa
(1938); Arrest Bulldog Drummond (1939); Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (1937);
Bulldog Drummond's Peril (1938); Bulldog Drummond's Bride (1939); Bulldog
Drummond's Revenge (1937)

While Deadlier Than the Male has been issued on video, it's a tough one to find. At present, the only source I know of for Some Girls Do is BLOOD TIMES VIDEO. Caution: the price for Blood Times videos or DVDs is a bit high for dubs that vary wildly in quality. Nonetheless, unless you have a better source, Blood Times has titles not easy to find.
Email Address: -

Britton, Wesley. Beyond Bond: Spies in Fiction and Film. Westport, CT.: Praeger Pub. 2005
-- --, Onscreen and Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage. Westport, CT: Praeger Pub. 2006.
McCormick, Donald. Who's Who in Spy Fiction. New York: Taplinger. 1977.
Mulay, James J. And Daniel Curran, Jefferey H. Wallenfeldt. Spies and Sleuths: Mystery, Spies, and Suspense Films on Videocassette. Evanston, IL: Cinemabooks. 1988.
Osbourne, Richard. Clubland Heroes. London: Constable and Co. 1953.

Bulldog Drummond Novels by Sapper
Bulldog Drummon (1920); The Black Gang (1922); The Third Round (1924); The Final
Count (1926); The Female of the Species (1928); Temple Tower (1929); The Return of
Bulldog Drummond (1932); Knock Out (1933); Bulldog Drummond at Bay (1935); The
Challenge (1937)

Bulldog Drummond short stories by Sapper
"Lonely Inn"; "The Mystery Tour"; "The Oriental Mind"; "Thirteen Lead Soldiers"; "Wheels
Within Wheels"

Books With Other Authors
Bulldog Drummon (1925) w/ Gerald du Maurier

Books by Gerard Fairlie
Bulldog Drummond on Dartmoor (1938); Bulldog Drummond Attacks (1939); Captain
Bulldog Drummond (1945); Bulldog Drummond Stands Fast (1947); Hands Off Bulldog
Drummond (1949); Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951); The Return of the Black Gang

By Other Authors
Deadlier Than the Male (movie tie-in, 1966) by Henry Reymond)

Other Bulldog Drummond Projects
A Bulldog Drummond radio serial ran from 1941 to 1954 starring George Coulouris.

Drummond was one of many characters featured in the Anthology, Combined
Forces(1983) by Jack Smithers. Reviving several "Clubland" heroes, the book was described as "Being the Latter-Day Adventures of Maj. Gen. Sir Richard Hannay, Captain Hugh (Bulldog) Drummond, and Berry & Co."

Bullshot Crummond (1983) was a parody that was both a play and film. In 1991, Kim
Newman's short story "Pitbull Brittan" was a parody of Drummond and of the state of England under Margaret Thatcher, featuring Bulldog's battle against an international conspiracy responsible for the 1984 Miners' Strike. Newman also used Drummond for a brief cameo appearance in the novel, The Blooddy Red Baron.

In 2004, Moonstone Books released a Bulldog Drummond comic book written by William Messner-Loebs, illustrated by Brett Barkley. (48pgs, b/w, Cover by Tim Seelig.)

For related articles, see

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello, I really love the BD novels and films alike, unfortunatelly the 1929 version seems to be bad, its one of my favourites because it was the first one I ever saw, late at night and scared my parents would discover me watching TV...memories...

well about the influence on Ian Fleming, he did read the novels for sure when he was in school, actually you can read it up in his biographie.